What is yoga? It's a simple enough question. Yet when, at a recent British Wheel of Yoga Foundation class, we were asked to come up with a definition, the task was far from easy. But why should such an apparently uncomplicated challenge be so tricky to nail down?
One explanation is simply that yoga is a complicated discipline. Type the words "yoga" and "definition" into a search engine - and prepared to be stumped at the kaleidoscopic explanations that pop up.
Here's a random selection:
- "A way of life that includes ethical precepts, dietary prescriptions, and physical exercise. Its practitioners believe that their discipline has the capacity to alter mental and bodily responses normally thought to be far beyond a person's ability to modulate them."
- "Yoga is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy, focusing on meditation as a path to self-knowledge and liberation."
- Or the simple: "A form of yogic exercise that emphasizes specific postures in combination with controlled breathing. It is widely practiced in the West."
- "Or the more esoteric: "Hindu system of contemplation for effecting union of the human soul with the Supreme Being."
- Or even: "To yoke or unite, connoting the process of yoking or fusing individual consciousness and awareness with superconscious awareness-- the natural mind state of soul and God."
And my favourite:
* "An ancient Indian philosophy and way of life, where complete harmony between our body and mind is achieved by special exercise, breathing and meditation."
There's more at google
Perhaps it's sensible to follow the lead of yoga teacher Jo Stewart, and give up the pigeon-hole approach. "Yoga defies a rigid definition and is not practiced dogmatically", she says.
How true. Although many of us first come to yoga to sooth a niggling back, improve flexibility or strength, the fact is it means different, ever-changing things to all of us.
Perhaps the real definition is a mixture of all the above, and more - combined with our own individual take on what yoga gives us, physically, emotionally and psychologically.
So how would you define yoga? I'd love to hear your thoughts (please log in and post a comment here).
Lucia Cockcroft - editor
* Image source: Jane Kersel, Triyoga